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Mon 25 Jul 2011 03:32 PM

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Tunisia’s revolution disappoints some

The spark that lit the Arab Spring uprisings has failed to deliver economic rewards

Tunisia’s revolution disappoints some
Tourists visit stalls in La Medina souk in Tunis. Government data shows 3,000 tourism jobs have been lost since January

A short while ago, Adel Klaifa was used to members of the
Tunisian president's family coming to the beach and riding on his camels.

The only problem was that they refused to pay like regular
tourists.

Now six months after the overthrow of President Zine
al-Abidine Ben Ali, the first victim of the Arab Spring revolutions, Klaifa has
another problem - not enough customers of any kind. Along with many of his
fellow Tunisians, economic prosperity remains elusive.

"We are more free than before," he said as his
three camels -- Shakira, Aziza and Madonna -- sat waiting for would-be riders
on the burning sand of one of Tunis's most fashionable beaches.

"Before, the family of the president came to the hotel
and asked me for free camel rides, or else they would call the police.

"Now, there are not so many tourists," the
39-year-old father of two said as brightly coloured flags snapped in the breeze
behind rows of empty sunbeds. "We do expect them to come back..."

"For our children, we hope their lives will be better,
with more democracy and more freedom. But the politicians say a lot while they
don't do much."

Under Ben Ali, Tunisia was a police state and his fall
released a tide of enthusiasm for freedom and democracy, but as Klaifa
acknowledged, there has been a financial price to pay.

Official figures show revenues from tourism, which accounts
for 6.5 percent of the North African country's economy and employs one person
in five, have plunged by 50 percent in the first six months of the year.

Tunisian officials expect the economy to grow by just 1
percent this year, down from about 3.7 percent in 2010.

Finance Minister Jalloul Ayed said this month he expected
growth to rebound next year to over five percent.

The Tunisian economy is also expected to benefit from a
series of multi-billion dollar aid packages from the G8 and other international
bodies, but difficulties remain.

"This situation is the most difficult period in the
history of Tunisia since its independence and the government has no magic wand
to fix all the things in a short time," Prime Minister Beji Caid Sebsi
said in speech on Wednesday.

Many young Tunisians would agree. They still see no sign the
euphoria surrounding the revolution is going to improve their job prospects.

There are about 700,000 people unemployed in Tunisia, or
about 16 percent of the workforce.

But it is among college graduates, the class most associated
with the unrest that brought down the ancien regime, that joblessness has hit
hardest, leaving the expectations raised by the revolution often cruelly
unrealised.

It was an act of self-immolation by Mohamed Bouazizi, an
unemployed graduate reduced to selling fruit and vegetables from a barrow in
the town of Sidi Bouzid, that sparked the unrest that set the Arab world
alight.

His fellow graduates could now be forgiven for wondering
exactly what it was he died for.

Unemployment among graduates is now 30 percent, according to
the prime minister and this is not a problem he expects to be able to solve any
time soon.

In some areas, graduate joblessness is much higher, leading
to regular street protests. In Sidi Bouzid, for example, it is 48 percent, a
figure that leads some to predict more trouble to come.

"There is frustration among the young people in the
region," said Mehdi Horchani, a teacher in Sidi Bouzid. "There are
many promises but they have not achieved anything yet."

"The situation is very bad and may explode again at any
moment because in the former era there was frustration but there was also fear,
but now there is frustration and there is no fear," he said.

There is also disappointment, said Faten Ayadi, who
graduated in communications and journalism in 2007.

"After the revolution, I was optimistic that things
would be better and the new government would provide more job opportunities.
Our hopes were high but we have not seen anything positive."

She had repeatedly applied for jobs but was told the
priority was to give posts to people from more deserving social backgrounds.

"The revolution has not given me anything," she
said.

Elsewhere, frustration is turning to desperation.

"I'm still waiting for a chance to work," said
Ramzi Layouni from the western Tunisian town of Kasserine, who graduated in
2004. "I see a future that is still dark."

He realised that the new interim government had no
"magic wand" to find jobs for graduates.

"I will be forced to migrate to Europe illegally by
sea, or maybe burn myself like Bouazizi. I am tired of this situation."

He added: "I do not blame the government. I blame the
international community that only praised Tunisia's revolution without
providing assistance to young men who faced bullets for freedom and
dignity."